What is the amnestic state of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS)?

Updated: May 16, 2018
  • Author: Glen L Xiong, MD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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The Korsakoff amnestic state is observed in a small number of patients. Individuals present as alert and responsive. On examination, they demonstrate the amnestic features of Korsakoff psychosis as the only manifestation of mental confusion. This state appears after the initial confusional state begins to resolve with thiamine administration and persists to some degree in the most severely affected individuals.

The Korsakoff state is characterized by anterograde (ie, learning) and retrograde (ie, memory of past events) amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is severe but incomplete. It is demonstrated by the ability of the patient to repeat a series of numbers or objects as they are stated, along with an inability to recall the registered information after 3-5 minutes.

Retrograde amnesia is demonstrated by gaps in patients' memories of the recent and remote past that antedate the onset of illness. These gaps in memory are what lead to the characteristic feature of confabulation.

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